Long-time readers will recall a series of posts here about the Daisy Lundy alleged hate crime at the University of Virginia. (Too many posts to cite. To find them just search for Daisy in the “search the site” box to the right.) Ms. Lundy, for those of you were not here then, is a UVa undergrad who was running for president of the student council last year, and seemed about to lose. She claimed that she had been attacked early one morning, both physically and with racist verbal abuse. The university community convulsed, a large reward was offered, committees were set up, new programs were instituted, vigils were held, hands were wrung. Ms. Lundy won the election after her opponent withdrew, and nothing has been heard of the incident since.
For the past several weeks the Claremont Colleges in California have been experiencing a hate crime convulsion that was set off by what appear to have been real incidents. A Message from President Steadman Upham of the Claremont Graduate University provides some of the background of the series of events.
The series started with the theft of a cross from the Pomona College art gallery by undergraduate students from three of the colleges. The cross was taken to the Harvey Mudd campus and set ablaze.
The cross burning is a deep affront to our minority students and faculty, and to everyone associated with the colleges. Ironically and sadly, the students – athletes on campus before the return of students for the spring term – say they did not fully realize the symbolism of the event. A judicial conduct board is currently hearing their case, and the students face a variety of sanctions, including expulsion.
In the weeks that followed, African-American posters have been defaced at Claremont McKenna College and Scripps. There have also been threats made to gay and lesbian students, again, at the undergraduate colleges. These senseless acts violate the very principles that guarantee the free flow of ideas in an academic community.
Then matters escalated. As Claremont McKenna College President Pamela Gann explained in a letter to CMC alumni on March 10:
Last evening, after the most recent community forum at CMC’s Athenaeum, an absolutely shocking and unconscionable act was perpetrated against a CMC faculty member who has spoken out on these issues. In particular, the faculty member’s car was vandalized on campus. The windows were broken, the tires were slashed, and the body of the vehicle was spray painted with various racial, religious, and gender-based epithets.
The Claremont Police responded and classified this incident as a hate crime. The Claremont Police will pursue a serious investigation of this crime, and if any alleged perpetrators are arrested, they will pursue the ultimate penalties under law. I have also asked every single member of this community and of The Claremont Colleges to help us solve this crime and to cooperate with the police investigation. I announced to our students Tuesday evening that CMC will offer a $10,000 reward to anyone who comes forward with information leading to the solving of this crime.
A hate crime such as this one is the greatest imaginable affront to everything that we stand for at CMC. Our community and our ability to have discourse have been directly and violently attacked by conduct and speech in an unconscionable act that was specifically targeted against a faculty member. We cannot possibly carry on as a teaching and learning community if persons physically threaten property and person in a way that leaves no doubt that it was in response to speech. We remain committed to maintaining a college community that has zero tolerance for these types of incidents.
Students and others responded spontaneously and forcefully last evening. They justifiably want Wednesday to be a day to gather to respond to this event and earlier events at The Claremont Colleges. The students have organized numerous events throughout the day on Wednesday, including a sit-in on the North Quandrangle, and a 5-College rally on the CMC campus at 8:00 PM Wednesday night.
In light of these events, I have also directed that CMC cancel classes today, and the other Claremont Colleges have also cancelled classes. One never lightly cancels classes, for to do so in some way suggests that we can be bullied by the perpetrators of such a heinous crime. Yet, we need every single person in this community to come together, to follow his or her conscience, and to start a process of regaining control of our community. In this way, we can hope to tell the perpetrators that they will in the end be defeated and repudiated.
As President Gunn’s letter indicated, the Claremont colleges mobilized quickly. Also on March 10 the Senates of the Claremont Colleges and the Rally Organizing Committee distributed the following partial schedule of anti-hate activities:
Apathy towards hatred is not acceptable in any situation, but a passive response to the recent events in Claremont is no longer acceptable either. It is time for every member of the Claremont Colleges community to act to reclaim our campuses.
It is unacceptable that our peers feel unsafe at our Colleges. It is intolerable that individuals among us feel justified in a violent expression of hate. We must not allow these events to sabotage our community or to dominate our lives.
The events scheduled today are not only a response to the recent hateful vandalism in Claremont, but a concerted effort to reclaim our community. The course we are on is being perilously steered by a tiny minority who would have us fearful and divided. We as a community must come together and reverse that course, pointing it in a direction of tolerance for everyone that comprises the Claremont Colleges.
The schedule of events for reclaiming our campuses is as follows (please note that due to the short notice some events may change — check your email for updates):
8:00 am &ndash 12:00 pm: Individual Campus responses. Pomona will show a video of the vandalized vehicle at Marston Quad and have both written and verbal forums for student responses.
10:00 am: Office of Black Student Affairs Press Conference, to be held at the OBSA Office, 139 East Seventh Street.
11:00 am: Lunch at Collins Dining Hall, CMC, hosted by OBSA.
12:00 pm: Sit-in Show of Solidarity in the center of North Quad at CMC.
OBSA requests that you wear black for this event in order to show community solidarity.
7:15 pm: Community Members not already participating in events at CMC should convene as individual college communities at the following meeting places:
Harvey Mudd — Lawn in front of the Linde Activities Center.
Pitzer — The Mounds.
Pomona — Marston Quadrangle.
Scripps — Turf in front of Malott Commons and Balch Auditorium.
7:30 pm: Assembled College Communities will begin to walk towards Parents Field in the Center of the Claremont McKenna campus.
8:00 &ndash 8:30 pm: Five College Community Rally at Parents Field, CMC.
There will be a brief introduction, a keynote speaker, and a three minute speech from a member of each of the five college communities. Speakers will be announced as they are confirmed.
8:30 pm or End of Rally: Community members will be encouraged to proceed to a multitude of forums, discussions, and reflection sessions around campus. More information will follow regarding meeting places as they are confirmed.
College communities seem to have an unmatched ability to work themselves up into a frenzy of self-flagellation over incidents of hate, even though the hateful acts themselves are isolated incidents of a few individuals, or less. (Here, according to President Upham’s letter cited above, the students who stole and burned the cross were athletes who “say they did not fully realize the symbolism of the event.”). In a move that has now become predictable in such situations, the Claremont Graduate University Board of Trustees moved quickly “to create the Permanent Group on Tolerance, Fairness, and Diversity composed of trustees from every working committee of the board.”
At the Board meeting that created this group one of the trustees spoke in a manner that, in other circumstances, would have been described as, well, corny. As described in a statement by CGU President Upham:
Trustee Matthew Jenkins, an African-American who has experienced the sting of racial intolerance throughout his life, spoke eloquently and forcefully in board committee meetings and in front of the full board about racism and its origins. Using a powerful reverse metaphor, he said that if corn is planted on the sidewalk, it will not grow no matter how much it is fertilized and watered. But if corn is planted in a fertile field, it will sprout and flourish. He then compared the environment of the Claremont Colleges to the fertile field. He said bluntly that racist and anti-Semitic acts would not have happened unless the environment at the Claremont Colleges provided nourishment for them to exist.
Dr. Jenkins is right. Incidents of intolerance have occurred because we have allowed the conditions that sustain racism and anti-Semitism to exist. Eradicating these conditions must become a priority of everyone associated with CGU and the other Claremont Colleges. This is not a job for someone else to do. Rather, each one of us needs to examine our own actions, fears, and motivations in light of this recognition.
Up to this point the trajectory of moralistic self-abasement (the guiltier you say you are, the more moral you prove yourself to be) was very similar to the course of events last year at UVa. But what appears to be the conclusion is very different. Or is it? Consider this last letter that President Upham distributed to all CGU students today (March 17) (sent to me by a CGU student) and posted on the CGU web site. Here are the first two paragraphs:
Update on Hate Crime from President Upham:
Today the Claremont Police Department issued a news release concerning progress toward solving the recent crime involving a visiting professor at Claremont McKenna College-a crime of vandalism and theft that was deemed a hate crime. I wrote to you regarding this situation last week. In its news release, the Claremont Police Department reported that:
The Claremont Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have completed their investigation into the alleged hate crime on the Claremont McKenna College campus. During the course of the investigation, two eye witnesses came forward who positively identified the victim as vandalizing her own vehicle. Additionally, interviews with the alleged victim revealed inconsistencies in her statements regarding the incident.
You might think that at this point it would be in order to heave a presidential sigh of relief that the Claremont Colleges are not such a fertile breeding ground for racism, anti-Semitism, and intolerance after all. Moreover, it might occur to you that a thoughtful president should observe that the real hate crime is the fraudulent accusation of hate crimes and call for campus-wide consideration and discussion of exactly why it was that the collection of colleges was so ready to implode in a paroxysm of racial guilt.
But if you thought that would be how a modern college president would respond to this shameful series of events, you’d of course be wrong. How President Upham did conclude this letter is as predictable as the series of events leading up to it:
Whatever the ultimate outcome, I remain heartened with the outpouring of support we saw last week on our campus and throughout the Claremont Colleges for the values of inclusiveness, tolerance, and diversity. As a university, we are committed to taking concrete steps to make CGU a place where all people feel welcome and included, regardless of their race, gender, culture, religion, sexual orientation, or nationality. I look forward to reporting to you on our progress. As always, I welcome your comments on how we can build a better community.
Dunn could not immediately be reached for comment. She was not taken into police custody.
Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office, said she had no comment because prosecutors have not received the case.
I should have known: Erin O’Connor beat me to this one, as usual. See her post and her additional links.
Today’s Los Angeles Times has an article today about the Claremont fake hate.
[Kerri Dunn] was not arrested, but Claremont Police Lt. Stan Van Horn said the case would be sent to the Los Angeles County district attorney for review and that the likely charge would be filing a false police report, a misdemeanor. The FBI said she might face more serious felony charges of lying to federal investigators.
…. The police contention that Dunn staged the incident triggered a wave of anger against her Wednesday and fears that students would become cynical about racism.
“This is like a very big deal if they think I’m a suspect,” Dunn said in the doorway of her Redlands home. “I didn’t want any of this from the beginning. This is so overshadowing the bigger problem on campus, which is that the administration has turned its head regularly on hate speech and hate crimes.”
Like a very big deal? Now why would she say that? True, there was no, like, actual hate crime, but think how much better everyone feels now that they’ve been given an opportunity to demonstrate how “inclusive” and “welcoming” they are.
Katherine Lind, chairwoman of the Claremont Committee on Human Relations, a city agency, said she was upset by the news but that her biggest concern was that students would be discouraged by the outcome of the investigation. “What they did — the rallies, the forums — was really inspiring,” she said. “Their passion was a lesson for us all.
“I urge the students to continue to articulate their problems and not let this incident dissuade them in any way,” Lind said.
Claremont McKenna College President Pamela Gann said that Dunn’s continued employment was under review “but that the college remained committed to ‘academic freedom and free speech.’” (Editorial addendum: So is Martha Stewart, but she’s about to go to jail for lying to federal investigators. Maybe she and Prof. Dunn could be cellmates.)
Call me paranoid, but I think there’s a double standard at work here. If I made all this stuff up, someone would surely accuse me of making it up — and be more upset at my prevarication than inspired by the Ultimate Truth of my cause.
UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE (3/20/04)
Steve Sailer, who posted a comment here early this morning, does indeed have some fascinating material on his web site, especially some email correspondence with the presidents of two of the Claremont colleges. (Scroll down the right column.)
I think the email from Nancy Bekavac, president of Scripps College, is particularly interesting. She responded to Mr. Sailer as follows:
As to the matter of the professor’s allegedly false claim, I have always thought it better to respond sympathetically to a claim on my sense of justice than to reject out of hand a cry for help. If one does the former, surely one may be taken in; if one does the latter, one is condemned to cynicism. Our communities saw a car covered with hateful graffiti, with tires slashed and windows broken. The professor, a temporary employee, has apparently been an effective teacher at one of our sister schools. What kind of institution, what kind of students and faculty, would ignore that? And what kind of institution would immediately assume that the victim was lying? [I have corrected a few typos — jsr]
Although President Bekavac left herself open to Mr. Sailer’s reply —
No, it’s better to wait for the police to get the facts before you and your fellow administrators wasted about $1 million dollars of parents’ tuition by canceling classes for a day in order to unleash chanting mobs to further your political aims. I’m not a college administrator like you are, but even I knew that a high proportion of campus hate crime brouhahas grow out of hoaxes like this one
— I think the point she made here has some merit. But then she attached a copy of an email she sent out to the Scripps College community on March 17. Here are the relevant paragraphs:
Professor Dunn is entitled to the presumption of innocence. Nonetheless, news that the victim of an alleged hate crime on our campuses is now a suspect in that crime is shocking to all of us. While each of us is dealing with our emotions in our own way, we should also confront this recent news, as we confronted the vandalism, together. We will be setting a community meeting early next week, when all students are back on campus following spring break.
Above all, we must focus on this: even if the vandalized car and slogans were a hoax, our responses last week were right and appropriate — in our community meeting March 10 in Balch Auditorium and in our strong participation in the evening rally at CMC with all The Claremont Colleges.
However painful and confusing this latest development is, we cannot forget the reasons we were outraged in the first place; we cannot avoid the challenges that hatred poses to our community, to our country. We will continue to work to make our campuses welcoming, open, diverse, and productive so that all of us can freely teach and learn to the best of our abilities.
Although the sentiments expressed here are not entirely without merit (indeed, they are not that dissimilar to Kaimi Wenger’s views, with which I respectfully disagreed here), I find this argument considerably more problematical. Perhaps I’m overreacting to it, but it reminds me of the style of argument employed by Joe McCarthy’s defenders — well, at least his heart was in the right place, and the American people knew where he stood — and the defenders of 1992 Nobel Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu after it was revealed that her allegedly non-fiction book actually contained large doses of fiction. (Her inventions were first revealed here.)
As John Leo observed in a widely read article several years ago on hate crime hoaxes,
when Rigoberta Menchu’s famous account of class and ethnic warfare in Guatemala was revealed to be largely false, many professors said this didn’t matter much because her book contained emotional truth. The blurring of the line between fact and fiction is far advanced in our university culture. Hoaxes are just one symptom of the truth problem.
Statements like President Bekavac’s do serve to soothe her audience by reaffirming the “emotional truth” they all share (as well as their own goodness for sharing it), but in skipping so lightly over the abuse of trust and the corrosive effects of manufacturing false claims of racism, as well as the relegation of the small matter of factual accuracy to the bottom of the list of concerns, if it even makes the list, this sort of smarmy response also does that audience a substantial disservice.
The Los Angeles Times reports today that Prof. Kerri Dunn, who denies that she vandalized her own car, has been put on paid leave pending the outcome of an investigation being conducted by Claremont McKenna College. Her one year visiting contract expires in June.
Her lawyer, Gary Lincenberg, said, “Hopefully, putting professor Dunn on paid leave will give the authorities time to find the criminals who vandalized her car.”
Pamela Gann, president of CMC, said in an interview with the LAT that the wishes of students had not been considered. “I haven’t heard from students one way or the other, whether they want her back,” Gann said.